Friday, 5 November 2010

Back to basics

There is frequent talk of crisis in British modern language teaching circles. Falling numbers of students, unfair grades, lack of time on the timetable, lack of commitment from leaders obsessed with league tables. The government is wobbling on primary languages, whilst acknowledging that something must be done to address lack of participation.

My impression from the blogs and forums is that the new KS3 framework may be diverting teachers away from their prime purpose with most students, namely teaching and practising vocab and structures. The talk nowadays is of "independent enquiry" and PLTS (Personal learning and Thinking Skills). We are encouraged to go cross-curricular and to make our subjects more fun. Ah! The "F" word.

Sure, kids like "fun" lessons, but in my experience what they most want is to succeed, to learn a lot and work. What should be some of our principles in the classroom? Here are a few I posted on the TES forum yesterday:

- a fair amount of TL is needed to activate natural acquisition; too much is off-putting in a school context.
- grammatical explanation is important
- vocab acquisition is important, using a variety of means including rote memory work
- a range of skills are needed. Writing is least important, but necessary to aid other skills and to make classrooms manageable!
- selection and grading of language is important
- structured pair work (e.g. information gaps) is good for promoting fluency and confidence
- drilling is useful for embedding structures and vocab . It probably assists natural acquisition too
- some translation is fine
- dictation is fine
- plenty of structured listening tasks are good
- interesting content is useful
- good visual aids are important
- assessment should resemble what we do in the classroom
- encouraging contact with native speakers through exchanges, letters, email, social networking is good
- there is no panacea method and children learn differently
- clarity and clear aims at all times for children
- regular contact, little and often, daily is best.

Anything I missed?

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